Invisible Skateboarding, Invisible Jiu Jitsu by Josh Vogel
There is a fascination in the Brazilian JIujitsu world with what Rickson Gracie coined as “Invisible Jiujitsu”. I’ve heard the term mentioned in other places, Braulio Estimas instructionals, John Danaher uses the term in his rebuttal of Bj Penns accusations of GSP greasing during their last fight. The term indicates that there is more to grappling than meets the eye. There is also an idea out there that Grappling is a game of inches. That moving a limb, or shifting your bodyweight in an inch one way or the other can have profound influences on the overall effect of a technique or movement.
I believe this to be very true, without a doubt.
Now here’s another idea, it’s related, so don’t worry, I’m not getting too far off track. I’ve been reading this book called “The Medeci Effect”. It’s pretty good so far and presents some interesting ideas. It’s a pop-whatever book, like Malcolm Gladwells books and The Talent code, Talent is overrated. The idea that the book hangs on is that great innovations are found in the intersection of fields. Take Submission grappling for example. If you take just the traditional Brazilian Jiujitsu element of 5 basic positions and submissions based on those, you have one line going in one direction. If you take the Leg lock game from Sambo you have another line, moving in a different direction (different arts, different goals, different directions). Now intersect those two lines and what happens? If you intersect the line at the guard position in Bjj, you have someone who can play the traditional sweeps/submission game of Bjj who now has the added skillset of someone who can attack leglocks. This now creates a whole new direction of thought , positions, transitions and subs, to explore.
You get the idea.
So, one of the other “memes” of Brazilian Jiujitsu is that the Invisible Jiujitsu cannot be taught in videos or books. It has to be felt to be understood. This leads to a whole lot of frustration, if you are like me and want to know what the hell people are talking about when they type vague seminar reviews of what they learned at the Rickson Gracie seminars. Countless people post on forums “why can’t you just type something useful, explain some techniques or something!”, frustrated that people go online and talk about how awesome these seminars were, but don’t explain anything they learned.
One thing about that is that there are plenty of gems that people have dropped from the seminars. Details of limb positioning, concepts about “connection”, etc… but that’s not dazzling enough for a lot of people.
So I went to one of Mr. Rickson Gracies seminars a couple of years ago…I was blown away, and I also found myself in the same boat, I couldn’t really explain well what I learned there. Sure there were technical details, the connection thing and some other concepts. But it just seemed kind of empty when put down in written word. It seemed more three dimensional when I was there are the seminar, and it doesn’t really take shape until you have someone there showing it to you and making you feel it.
So I was thinking, maybe I can use the ideas from “The Medeci Effect” to help explain to others, and maybe explain better to myself why it is so hard to explain the subtleties of Jiujitsu to someone else. I’m not trying to explain “Invisible” this or that; I’m trying to explain why some stuff is hard to explain. I’m not just talking about the Rickson Gracie Seminar, hell, I just went to one seminar, I don’t really know much beyond that about his style (and whatever I’ve gleaned from video analysis of his students and him competing). But I think I can use my 24 (or so) years of experience skateboarding to help illuminate a little:
In skateboarding, at first you learn how to push and then you learn some tricks. You learn ollies, 180’s, 360’s, etc…there are some fundamental movements that you need to do anything else in skateboarding. At first it’s enough just to have your feet on the board. As time passes, you develop sensitivity to the leverage of the tricks. You feel when a trick isn’t going to happen, it’s almost like a sixth sense. Sometimes you still do the trick and that’s when you bust your ass on some hard concrete. You learn to adjust foot placement. It’s amazing how an inch here or an inch there can influence the rotation of a skateboard during a kickflip, or an inch here or there can influence the height or quality of an ollie. If your front foot is close to the top bolts of the board, this is usually sufficient to ollie up a curb. To ollie over a fire hydrant, this will not be enough (unless you are very tall, or the board very short, then the leverage changes).
Time passes and your body feels the proper foot placement, now it’s more a matter of the pressure that you place on different parts of your foot, your small weight shifts, your focus going into the trick. Internal things that you have to feel to be aware of. It becomes so that everything starts to matter; what kind of board, the concave, the wheels, the tightness of the bolts, the condition of the bearings, the footwear you are using. These things all start to FEEL important and they are minor things in a sense, but not minor things in another sense. They all contribute to the overall FEEL of whatever you are doing on the skateboard. Things that I suppose you could explain to someone, but not in a way that would make much sense, or allow them to learn much from it. The thing is that I think you have to be at a certain level of skateboarding (I’m not talking about being good or bad at it, I’m talking about a certain level of sensitivity and awareness and experience that only comes with years of doing the thing) to understand this stuff. When I skateboard, I can’t really do any good tricks any more, with any real skill. I can do some basic stuff, but nothing substantial, I’m not willing to get hurt doing the stuff I used to. However, I can push the skateboard really really well and I feel everything with a really high degree of sensitivity when I am pushing and cruising down the street. I can feel everything and I feel, in an almost OCD kind of way when something is off. I’ve whittled down my skateboarding game to the bare essentials and I choose to focus on and master those. They are safe, they are fun and that’s how I can keep progressing. I’ll never be in the X games with that stuff, but it’s enough to keep me happy and learning.
I think Brazilian Jiujitsu shares some of the same qualities. One glaring difference is that it is difficult to teach the invisible aspects of skateboarding to someone else because the skateboard doesn’t talk and cannot tell you if the pressure is right. A person, however can. They can give you feed back, and you can discuss things after sparring or drilling to help improve certain points. But what IS similar is that everything starts off with rough, broad strokes and progresses to the fine lines. You start off with a rough looking armbar and end up with a subtle armbar that uses small pressures here and there to coax the opponent into submission. You start with something coarse and end up with something fine and profound. But you have to go through all the steps and go through the growing process.
The thing is, I know that there is an efficient and invisible aspect to every activity. It’s the same old story that every art shares. I cannot say that I am anywhere near that level with Brazilian Jiujitsu, I’m certainly not. But I’ve tasted a little of that from skateboarding and from the seminar and from the skill of people that are much much better than me at Bjj. Sometimes a taste is enough to give you a direction to go in. Sometimes a taste is enough to figure out the recipe, if you work at it.